It is believed that a Chinese philosopher and soldier named Sun Tzu lived over 2,500 years ago. He was a master of strategies and tactics. His philosophies are captured in a book titled The Art of War. It is unclear whether Sun Tzu actually wrote the book or whether it is a collection of the philosophies of others. One thing is for sure; The Art of War has been used by military strategists from many countries over the years. The philosophies written in the book have become, not only a staple of military teaching, but also of succeeding in business. The basis of Sun Tzu’s teachings is strategy on how to win at war or conflict in general. Military leaders, politicians and business people alike have used the strategies in The Art of War to gain advantage over their opponents. One such strategy is Sun Tzu’s philosophy of deception.
Sun Tzu’s talks about the relevance of deception in Chapter I of The Art of War. His philosophy emphasizes the relevance of deception in the accomplishment of defeating one’s enemy. Sun Tzu means to manipulate the opponent’s view of the battlefield situation so that he will move his forces or take actions favorable to one’s own terms. Sun Tzu describes it as, “those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform. They entice him with something he is certain to take, and with lures of ostensible profit, they wait for him in strength” (Sun Tzu 66). The approach described by Sun Tzu directs one’s own forces to be “shapeless” so as not to divulge one’s plans to the enemy. Sun Tzu states:
All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him (66).
un Tzu taught the non-direct approach when preparing the battlefield and the enemy for war. He counseled to evaluate the enemy’s strength and to strike him at his weak point. Pretending to be weak to allow the enemy to become arrogant and giving the enemy no rest were additional Sun Tzu ideas. He advised the reader to appear where not expected and to play with the enemy like a cat plays with a mouse, first showing weakness and then suddenly pouncing on him. Sun Tzu gives an example in The Art of War:
The Cao general Li Mu released herds of cattle with their shepherds; when Hsiung Nu had advanced a short distance he feigned a retirement, leaving behind several thousand men as if abandoning them. When Klan heard this news he was delighted, and at the head of a strong force marched to the place. Li Mu put most of his troops into formations on the right and left wings, made a horning attack, crushed the Huns and slaughtered over one hundred thousand of their horseman.
An example of Sun Tzu’s idea might be to deliberately reduce your resistance. This way, when your enemy believes there is an opportunity, he attacks you. But you are ready and expected this assault, so you pull your enemy in the direction of his advance but slightly to one side. This action will cause your enemy to lose his balance permitting you to attack and illustrates the advantage of deception (69).
Striking where the enemy is most vulnerable is a critical principle of Sun Tzu’s thinking. This will allow a leader to win all-under-heaven. In order to accomplish this, a leader must avoid strength and strike weakness. Sun Tzu wrote that an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness. In order to accomplish this, one needs deceive the enemy by whatever means are necessary.
Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. (1971). trans. Samuel B. Griffith. Oxford, London: Oxford University Press.